The Christmas break ends on Sunday for four of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League teams, but the biggest news is the retirement of legendary head coach Dwight McMillan of the Weyburn Red Wings.
McMillan, who has been on leave from the team to deal with a personal family matter, officially handed in his resignation on Wednesday leaving the Red Wings searching for a replacement for the first time in more than 30 years. Assistant coach Darcy Pindus will take over on an interim basis.
The iconic bench boss, who accumulated 1,100+ regular season wins with the Red Wings, was originally hired in 1973 and with the exception of a couple of years in the late 1970’s was the Weyburn head coach for almost 40 years.
McMillan is part of an elite group that consists of just Brian Kilrea and Scotty Bowman with more than 1,000 coaching victories.
The Red Wings begin life without McMillan on Sunday when they travel to Estevan to face the Bruins in the first game of a home-and-home series. The return match will be played on New Year’s Day, a game that has become known as the Tom Huston Classic in recognition of another long-time Red Wing supporter with more than 40 years of service.
Also playing twinbills this holiday weekend are the Melville Millionaires and Yorkton Terriers with that series also having games on Sunday in Yorkton and Tuesday in Melville.
The Nipawin Hawks and Melfort Mustangs will lock horns in back-to-back games on Monday and Tuesday with the Hawks in Melfort for the opener on Monday before returning to The Cage on Tuesday.
Weyburn, which has struggled this year with just nine wins in 30 games after reaching the league final a year ago, is 0-2 against Estevan this year with the Bruins six points better than the Red Wings in the Sherwood Division standings. After these two contests, the rivalry won’t be renewed until the final weekend of the regular season.
In the Melville-Yorkton showdown the odds are pretty good the games will be decided by one goal and even better that it will be a shootout settling the outcome. In four previous meetings this year, Yorkton, which leads the Sherwood Division standings with a 24-8-0-1 record, has won three times while the Millionaires have come out on top once. All four games have been decided by one goal and three went to a shootout. It is the last time the two teams will meet in the regular season.
Both Yorkton and Melville will be missing one player as Tyler Giebel from the Terriers and Alex Elliott from the Millionaires has been summoned to the Western Hockey League’s Saskatoon Blades as emergency replacements. Both were to play in a weekend doubleheader against the Prince Albert Raiders and will likely stay with the team until four of their regulars return from international tournaments.
Melfort and Nipawin also have a bit of a quirk going as the road team has won each of the two previous meetings. Nipawin has won its last two games to maintain a one-point lead over the Battlefords North Stars for third place in the North Division standings while Melfort has lost its last four contests to slip into the North Division basement. Melfort and Nipawin won’t meet again until the middle of February after the doubleheader early next week.
The Mustangs, who are celebrating their 25th year in the SJHL, need just one more win to match their total from one year ago.
The league gets back into full swing next weekend when five games are scheduled for both Friday and Saturday. Weyburn has the toughest schedule to start the New Year as they follow the series against Estevan with a three-games-in-three-nights road swing through the Battlefords, Kindersley and Humboldt.